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The Maple Leafs cap situation is encouraging but there are limitations to what they can do

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Photo credit:© Bob DeChiara-USA TODAY Sports
Jon Steitzer
1 month ago
The salary cap has now officially been locked in at $88M and you can plan your Capfriendly Armchair GM sessions accordingly (for as long as they are still available.) The Leafs’ cap situation is neither dire nor allows the team to blank-cheque players. At a quick glance, the Maple Leafs have $18.8M, and for the first time in a long time that comes without any LTIR commitments. The CapFriendly baseline has 10 forwards, 5 defencemen, and 1 goaltender under contract on the Leafs roster, needing a minimum of 2 forwards, 1 defenceman, and 1 goaltender. That number changes through a couple of realizations, Cade Webber and Conor Timmins should not be considered locks for the Leafs blueline. Practically the Leafs have $20.8M available and need a minimum of 2 forwards, 3 defencemen, and 1 goaltender. That’s still $3.46M per vacancy if they don’t utilize their press box or $2.08M per vacancy if they utilize it to their fullest.
The Leafs have several unrestricted free agents who seem like they will at least factor into the discussion about whether or not they should return. Tyler Bertuzzi and Max Domi have become fan favourites but would be looking for raises and term. Ilya Samsonov isn’t likely to be returning as the Leafs appear to be prioritizing a new direction in goal, and Joel Edmundson, TJ Brodie, and Ilya Lyubushkin would likely need to return at a discount for the Leafs to not pursue upgrade options this summer. Throw Nick Robertson, Connor Dewar, and Timothy Liljegren into the mix as interesting but not expensive restricted free agents and the Leafs might have more cap space than roster spaces depending on the position.
The Leafs also need to consider who will be pushing for more work in 2024-25, and that is an impressive list of players. Fraser Minten, Easton Cowan, Jacob Quillan, Nick Abruzzese, and Nikita Grebyonkin could all vie for spots in the Leafs lineup. As could the previously mentioned Cade Webber, Conor Timmins, along with Marshall Rifai and Topi Niemela as dark horse candidates. Nothing in Brad Treliving’s history shows that he will hold lineup spots for young players but given what the Leafs might want to spend on the essential lineup card spots, cheap ELC players as the Maple Leafs’ reserve might make sense.
Assuming conservative cap hits for the Maple Leafs restricted free agents and the reliance on at least a couple of entry-level contract players for depth, the Leafs have around $15M to spend on one forward, two defencemen, and a goaltender or about $3.75M per vacancy. That sounds like a decent amount but what needs to be considered is that the salary cap increase represents a 6.67% average salary increase for players around the NHL, and the bulk of that average will find its way into the pockets of the best free agents available. Also, the Leafs don’t need two defencemen, they need a top pairing and likely another top four defenceman. The forward the Leafs need is ideally a second line centre, and the goaltender the Leafs want should be capable of handling 50 starts. This is where money starts looking tight.
Without going full “trade Mitch Marner” in this post (you can find plenty of other places on this site where we’ve explored that idea) the Leafs have options to create salary cap space. Moving on from David Kampf is a favourite suggestion of mine as the Leafs have a capable 4C with Pontus Holmberg and decent Plan B options with Connor Dewar and Jacob Quillan, not to mention that role might be the best starting place for Fraser Minten as well. Moving on from Kampf to Holmberg represents a $1.6M savings if Kampf can be dealt.
There is also the option of trading Ryan Reaves, who could represent a $500k savings if the Leafs replaced him with one of their entry-level players or even a non-name brand enforcer. He’s not a luxury the Leafs can afford. The Leafs could also make tough decisions on Nick Robertson and Timothy Liljegren and the Leafs could find savings in entry level replacements.
The likely takeaway is it will be hard to bring back Max Domi or Tyler Bertuzzi. It also seems impossible to address every hole in the Leafs’ lineup. If the Laurent Brossoit rumours are true, the Leafs seem willing to gamble in goal for greater flexibility on defence, likely the forward position will suffer a similar fate to sure up a long-term area of concern for Toronto. At the same time, defence might be the place where gambling on star power and cap hits in the name of players who would systematically work under Craig Berube might be the practical alternative to skimping on goaltending and a centre. That’s still a hard sell.
The Leafs having $20M to spend is a good thing for them but the reality of trying to upgrade the roster when Bertuzzi, Domi, Samsonov, Brodie, Giordano, Edmundson, and Lyubushkin are on the way out will require some creativity. Brad Treliving being open to considering everything and anything is the right course of action if Toronto doesn’t want to wait until the summer of 2025 when Tavares is off the books and another cap increase makes upgrading easier.

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